250 foreigners evacuated from Gaza fighting
EREZ CROSSING – About 250 foreigners on Thursday took the risky ride from Gaza City to safety across the border, but hundreds are believed still left inside the war-stricken territory, diplomats said.
Some of those trapped, like Spaniard Maria Velasco, have made three attempts to get to the border but say they have been forced back by the fighting between Israel and Hamas or by bureaucratic obstacles.
The International Committee of the Red Cross organised the convoy of six buses that took 48 Canadians along with citizens of Austria, Norway, the Philippines, Romania and Sweden, officials said.
"It was risky," said Palestinian-Canadian Marwan Diad who was on holiday with his family when he became trapped in the war. "Nowhere is safe in Gaza."
At the Erez border crossing with Israel, the foreigners were greeted by diplomats from their countries and most were then escorted away to be taken onwards to Jordan where they were to board flights home.
Nasreen Elmadhoon, another Canadian Palestinian who had returned to Gaza to see her cancer-stricken father, blamed both sides for the conflict. "Everywhere people are being killed, people dying," she said.
"I was supposed to leave on 1 January, but I was stuck there, just hearing the bombs, in the house, doing nothing. I am happy because I’m out, but I am worried about my family."
Her seven year-old son, Fawiz, said: "I hate bombs, I was scared. I tried to not hear them. At night, my mum was sleeping. I was the only one awake. There are so many bombs, almost to our house… it didn’t come, but it was very close."
Israel allowed a first group of more than 200 foreigners to leave Hamas-controlled Gaza — where medical workers say more than 760 people have been killed — on January 2, the day before it sent in thousands of troops to back up a week of air raids.
Several attempts since then to evacuate foreigners have been cancelled because of fighting too close to the route they were meant to take.
Diplomats in Jerusalem estimate there are another 400 foreigners of 22 nationalities left in Gaza. Most are Palestinians with dual nationality or are married to Palestinians.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the evacuation "is expected to continue for a few more days depending on conditions in particular with regard to potential evacuees in the southern part of Gaza."
A Swedish diplomat said the consulate general in Jerusalem had been unable to contact two people on a list of 14 Swedish passport-holders still in Gaza.
"The others we have managed to stay in contact with, though even the mobile phone network is becoming very difficult now."
Maria Velasco, married to a Palestinian doctor, has tried three times to leave Gaza and told AFP by telephone from her home in the besieged southern town of Khan Yunis that she was now desperate.
She had hoped to leave with the others on Thursday but the Spanish consulate had not been able to get authorisation.
Spanish diplomatic sources blamed "circumstances beyond our control" and said the consulate general still hoped to get Velasco, her husband and two-year-old son out as soon as possible.
Velasco said she hoped to make a new attempt to leave on Friday, but was worried as "nowhere is safe".
She criticised what she called a "lack of coordination" by the Spanish government, Israel and the United Nations which had prevented them from being evacuated on Thursday.
She said she has been asking the Spanish consulate to get her out for more than a month.
[AFP / Expatica]